Taking Stock – XFL

The XFL is a quasi-dynasty, mostly industry (but most often won by the few non-industry guys) league that I play in. We freeze 15 players (including minor leaguers – not in addition to minor leaguers), auction at First Pitch Arizona, and then have a March reserve draft to fill our rosters up to 40 players. We do have salaries that escalate by $5 for players either purchased in the auction or acquired as major leaguers in any of our supplemental drafts, and by $3 for those acquired as minor leaguers, with a pretty tight limits to qualify as minor leaguers (50 ABs for hitters, 20 IP for pitchers). You can read the full rules of the league here.

I’ve struggled in this league, often making my move to contend too soon after having a couple of good months. By “too soon,” I mean that the good start was more of a mirage rather than a reflection of the overall strength of my roster. Then I’d try to make a “go for it” deal and trade away one of my prospects or cheap “+$3’s” before it was time, and then have to start the cycle all over. Typically I fall somewhere in the range of fourth to eighth in this 15-team league, though I began towards the bottom of the league. I’ve seen the likes of Steve Moyer and Doug Dennis slowly build their team through some lean years to eventually emerge as champs, whereas Don Drooker and Jeff Winnick are perennially at the top. Perry VanHook won the league last year, too.

Part of my problem in this league is the timing of it. I’ll be honest, I haven’t given it the proper attention it deserves, so the roster freeze (and thus the trades that go with it) deadline always sneak up on me, and I only make half-measures before that. Moreover, my auction planning in October and November has been lacking. It’s easy to see why that’s the case – I’m in 15 or so leagues both for baseball and football, and October/November is peak football season. I often lack the bandwidth to do it right.

So I’m doing something a little different this year, starting my process in July when I nominally have more time. Football draft season has already started, but it’s nowhere near peak levels yet. I’m doing a better job of mapping out my overall plan – which falls in line with some of my conclusions from March, when I decided I was more likely to have a better chance to win in 2020 or even 2021.

As in previous seasons recently, I’ve started well, but I’m just a level or two behind the top teams. But before I trade off any inventory, let’s take a detailed look at the standings and my roster.

First, the standings:

Two weaknesses are highlighted by the global view in the standings – a fade in the offensive counting stats, and my failure to address saves at the draft table. In fairness, DVR offered me a fair trade earlier in the season for Aroldis Chapman that I turned down as it would have forced me to deal Adley Rutschman, and even then I was committed to the long-term plan. But sometimes global standings can be deceiving – let’s take a more granular look at the hitting categories:

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Even if I made a concentrated push in the hitting counting stats categories, I’m looking at an upside of 10-12 points if everything goes right. I’m trailing by 25 points, however, so I’d also need to gain elsewhere … while my opponents remained static. The latter point is often forgotten when evaluating whether or not to go for it in keeper and dynasty leagues, or even in redraft leagues. Your opponents are *not* going to remain static, and especially not in their weakest categories. That’s doubly true when you’re the one attacking their weak category – you have to expect that they’ll react, so not everything is going to go perfectly.

On a mere standings basis, it doesn’t look like I’m going to make that push this year. Let’s take a look at my roster. First, the active roster this week:

Losing Joey Gallo is pretty much the finishing blow for this season – he provides exactly what I needed to make a last push, and now he’s out six weeks. This should also be the finishing blow for the Rangers as they decide whether they’re buyers or sellers at the deadline.

Here are my reserves and minor leaguers:

Looking at my minor leaguers here, you can see the other reason why I’m hesitant to make a “go-for-it” trade as I love a lot of them – Welker will probably be the lone non-protect among the bunch.

One thing I recommend that you do in keeper and dynasty leagues is to maintain an ongoing keeper list. A common misstep is to go through this exercise only at the time you have to declare your protects, but during the season your actions should always be done in mind with what you have in your franchise – whether it’s in terms of trades, pick ups and drops, or even the decision to go for it in a given year. It’s especially pertinent in deciding what you are looking for in return if you’re a seller – if you already have a full keeper list, trading for another prospect could be a mistake, unless that prospect is so prohibitively strong that he would replace someone currently projected to be a keeper.

With that in mind, here’s my list (listing their current salaries):

Definite Protects

  1. Vlad Guerrero Jr., 3B, $1 (+3)
  2. Juan Soto, OF1, $4 (+3)
  3. Javier Baez, SS, $16 (+3)
  4. Victor Robles, OF2, $4 (+3)
  5. Luis Urias, 2B, $4 (+3)
  6. Ketel Marte, MI/OF3, $8 (+5)
  7. Chris Paddack, SP1, $1 (+3)
  8. Zac Gallen, SP2, $5 (+3)
  9. Adley Rutschman, C, ML ($0 until activated) [RW prospect ranking – 15]
  10. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, ML [RW 9]
  11. Nolan Jones, 3B, ML [RW 33]
  12. George Valera, OF, ML [RW 13]
  13. Trevor Larnach, OF, ML [RW 32]

You’ll notice that there are only two pitchers in the batch. That’s mostly a feature, not a bug – I truly believe that the best dynasty/keeper teams build their hitting foundation first, and then pay the premiums on elite starters on top once the rest of the team is ready.

Candidates for last two spots

1. Joey Gallo, OF4, $19 (+5)
2. Hunter Dozier, CR (3B-only, unfortunately, so far), $1 (+5)
3. Brendan Rodgers, MI (2B-only), $1 (+3) [RW 73]
4. Kyle Schwarber, OF, $13 (+3)
5. Colten Welker, 3B, ML [RW 129]
6. James McCann, C, $2 (+5) – probably belongs in the next category as a tradeable asset who isn’t a keeper.
7. Ian Happ, UT, $7 (+3) – what a difference a season makes, but he’s only listed here in case he goes on a tear over the final two months, because of his contract status.

Tradeable Assets

  1. Madison Bumgarner, $31 (+3) – it was a reach to keep him the last two years, but it’s time.
  2. Zack Greinke, $31 (+5) – the trade to the Astros probably helps my efforts to trade him.
  3. David Price, $23 (+5)
  4. Jon Lester, $17 (+5)
  5. Hansel Robles, $5 (+5)
  6. Nick Anderson, $5 (+5) – I wonder if the Rays would consider using him as a traditional closer at some point.
  7. Alex Dickerson, $5 (+5)
  8. Marwin Gonzalez, $5, (+5)

The pitchers in this group have more trade value, obviously. I should have already traded MadBum, much like the Giants probably should have as well, but I failed in that respect. Luckily for me I still have some time to do so.

What should I be looking to acquire? You might argue pitching, and yes, that’s where I have a greater need. But I don’t think I’m yet at the stage where “need” is driving the conversation. I’m trying to maximize value, and also time the market such that most of my best players are ready at or nearly at the same time. Because I probably have more keepers than the maximum 15 slots, I think that the best course of action for me is to try to package 2-3 players from the latter two categories to find an elite prospect, or max-out in March redraft picks, which have a lot of currency in finding the top prospects – we’re not allowed to pick up minor leaguers in season.

The downside to not making a trade earlier is that fewer teams are contending, and some of those contenders have already made the trades that they think is sufficient for the stretch run. This is a common mistake in keeper leagues – except in rare situations where a race is hyper-competitive between 4-5 teams, you don’t want to be the last team selling. It’s been my experience that the early sellers get a better return.

Nonetheless, I should be able to find takers for Greinke and Bumgarner, at minimum, and probably Price and Robles. I’ll circle back in a month or so to update the results, and then again in October after First Pitch Arizona.